More Parking, Fewer Units Could Be Mar Vista Council Prescription for Venice Blvd Housing Project

Rendering of the proposed project at 12444 Venice Blvd. via the Mar Vista Community Council website.
Rendering of the proposed project at 12444 Venice Blvd. via the Mar Vista Community Council website.

Tomorrow night, the Mar Vista Community Council will hear from the public about a proposed mixed-use housing project slated for 12444 Venice Boulevard.

The proposed project would replace an existing strip mall. The proposal is for a new 85-foot tall building with 77 units (seven of which would be affordable) and about 2,100 square feet of ground-floor retail. It would include more bike parking (89 spaces) than vehicle parking (75 spaces) both at ground level and below.

At a recent meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council Land Use Committee, many of the usual concerns about new housing projects were raised. According to Argonaut coverage of the meeting last month, the building height was the primary concern.

A letter [PDF] to the City Planning Department from Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin revealed that some residents were also concerned by the lack of parking.

The question that will be answered Tuesday is whether the Mar Vista Community Council will support this project or if they will call for fewer units and more parking.

“The proposed project only provides 75 parking spaces, despite the fact that it has 77 residential units and over 2,000 square feet of ground floor retail,” Bonin wrote in his letter, dated July 12. “The limited parking will place a tremendous strain on the surrounding residential community.”

According to Bonin’s letter, not only is there not enough parking, but parking should not be at grade, lest it interfere with Venice Boulevard’s transformation into a Great Street. It ignores the negative impact on the walkability of Venice that would come with inviting more cars to the area by adding more parking, underground or not.

Bonin also expressed concern about the building’s height.

“The proposed project is seven stories and 85 feet in height, which is significantly taller than any other building on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista,” Bonin wrote in his letter. “Such a change is material and should be discussed at a public hearing.”

It is unclear if a height reduction would mean a loss of units. The proposed plans for the project include an alternative, shorter building with the same number of units, but with less architectural variety.

Still, the conversation surrounding this project is emblematic of confused priorities. The city of Los Angeles is facing a severe housing shortage that is driving up the cost of housing and forcing moderate and low-income people out of neighborhoods like Mar Vista that only a decade ago were relatively affordable.

An increase in quality jobs in the area combined with stagnation in housing growth has meant that moderate and low-income households are now competing with higher-earning households for the same units.

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report earlier this year that reiterated that if California is serious about curbing displacement, then the state should be building a lot more housing, including market-rate housing.

While 77 units is a drop in the bucket, it is a much-needed one at a time when families are being forced out of the state because they can’t afford the cost of housing.

From a livable streets perspective, even with at-grade parking, the project would be a huge improvement over the strip mall that currently occupies the site. Bonin is right to celebrate the transformation of Venice Boulevard into a new multi-modal thoroughfare. He is also right to assure that when properties are redeveloped along the new Venice Boulevard, they augment and improve the street life for people–not just cars.

Putting parking underground advances walkability goals. Requiring more parking on the property does not. More parking would likely increase vehicle trips in the area. Underground parking is very expensive. Investing in more parking spaces to store more cars means fewer resources available to house people.

There is a delicate balance to be struck here, with various goals sometimes in conflict. Will the community prioritize parking over housing, as L.A. has too often done in the past? Or can a consensus emerge that truly serves L.A.’s multi-modal future? Attend tomorrow night’s meeting and make your voice heard.

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Support the Mar Vista Great Streets project at a critical neighborhood council meeting tomorrow night. Other events this week include Toxic Tour leader training, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza redevelopment, bus service changes, Summer Train Fest and more.